Oh dinnertime...my friend and my nemesis. I really don't mind cooking, and I thought by being a mostly-at-home mom I'd have more time to prepare healthy, tasty meals for my family. But the truth of the matter is that at the end of the day, I'm still just as tired and with little time to prepare something...and I hate cleaning up a messy kitchen. Pretty much since the start of our marriage I have made a weekly menu plan and generally stick to it. I've seldom had to wonder "what will we have for dinner?", but I often don't really want to make what is on the menu because of the time involved.
Recently a few friends were posting that they were making meals for a month. Whoa. I know my limitations and making that many meals in one block of time would surely not be good for the emotional health of my home. BUT, why can't I make the meals for the coming week? So I got out a month-long calendar and planned the meals for the first two weeks. Then I set out with the first day and made as many meals as I could handle in a 2 hour time block. The awesome thing? When I made spaghetti casserole I was able to split it into two dishes and put one in the freezer. Same with the veggie soup. Then I was able to write those meals in a later date in the month. So I got 5 days worth of meals done in about 90 minute time block, plus cooked up some chicken so it is ready for the next bulk cooking day.
So I started the week with three meals in the fridge and two in the freezer. Slowly I may get a freezer stash built up. Later this week we'll be picking up our deep freeze to help in the process. It will also house the pastured pork and grass-fed beef what we'll soon be getting from Meadow Oaks Farm Angus Grass Fed Beef (yum). All the better to be able to prepare a bunch of meals at one time. One block of time. Many meals. One clean up. Glorious.
Another tactic I just employed in my battle against the hungry mob I feed (okay, admittedly, it's a small mob, but they do get hungry) is to assign each day of the week a particular genre of food. It is really helping in my meal planning. When you look at 7 days a week and try to figure out 7 meals, sometimes it is overwhelming. But this time I assigned each day like this:
Monday: Pasta night
Tuesday: Soup night
Wednesday: Casserole night
Thursday: Crockpot night
Friday: Fast & fun night (grilling, tacos, pizza, wings)
Saturday noon: Brunch (this week was spiced peach french toast strata)
Saturday night: ???
Sunday noon: Leftovers
Sunday night: Cereal Sunday Night (a family fave with no prep and little clean up!)
So far it is working for me. My next step is to take all of the recipes my family likes and put them in one of the categories, then I can easily use my lists to help with meal planning. It will help remind me of "forgotten" recipes and give me a place to add new ones.
So you want the organization of meal plans but don't want to do the work? For a while I used www.e-mealz.com, which not only gives you a menu plan, but gives you the weekly shopping list. Can we say time-saver? I loved it, and when I get bored with my current system I may try it again. They have menu plans for Aldi's, which is my new favorite grocery store.
It doesn't matter how you plan it or how you prepare it, family meal time can be one of the best times of the day...especially if the preparer isn't a frazzled mess when they sit down to dine.